Schedule a conversation – Eric Isselhardt


Staying for Bruce in the Rain


Last weekend, I attended my second-ever Bruce Springsteen concert.  I am the oldest of five siblings, and all four are tremendous Bruce fans. My sister purchased us all tickets to a Bruce NJ concert, on his birthday.  They were psyched, and I was ambivalent.  Ambivalence turned to annoyance when the concert was delayed starting by two hours due to thunderstorms, and a steady rain continued as we took our seats – outdoors.  They were right to be psyched and I was wrong to be ambivalent.

The concert was awesome.  What struck me most was the absolute passion of the musicians, and the strong connection they made with their audience.  Bruce turned 63 that night.  He was all over the stage, jumping, running, dancing, telling stories and thoroughly connecting with his audience.  His rendition of one of my favorite songs, Patti Smyth’s (yeah, I know he wrote it, but she made it happen), Because the Night was hands-down the best I’ve ever heard – or seen.  During this song, he was literally dancing a jig, playing the guitar, and belting out the lyrics in pure, unadulterated joy.

So by now, you’re saying so what?  I was watching a true professional, immersed in his craft, performing it with excellence, monitoring his audience, adjusting as he went along in accordance with what he observed amongst that audience, and providing feedback by giving them more of what they asked for, asking them to try listening to something new, and so on. (So, this is the mother of all run-on sentences).  You know that feeling you get when you see or hear greatness – the hair standing up on the back of your neck feeling?  My hair was standing.

What does this remind you of?  It reminds me of teaching; of seeing a great, talented, dedicated teacher engaged in their craft.   So many of the skills were the same – knowing the content, knowing the students (audience), reading them and adjusting as you go along, caring that they ‘get it,’ relating to their interests and needs.

With the tremendous focus now on educator effectiveness and how to measure it, this all made me think about what we are typically measuring in educator evaluations.  Do we measure these things, that make such a huge difference to that audience in that concert, that made them stay, in the rain, for a total of six hours?

The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) studies, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, focused on multiple measures.  And multiple measures did not mean multiple evaluations or observations.  It meant different kinds of measures.  In measurement, we recognize that different assessment methods capture different kinds of evidence.  For example, you cannot adequately measure pedagogy in a content knowledge assessment.  You cannot adequately measure content knowledge using a generalized framework for observation.  And so on.

So how do we capture evidence of the things that I saw in that concert?  Caring, engagement, monitoring and adjusting, empathy, willingness to stretch?  MET used a student survey tool called the Tripod Survey to capture evidence of some of these things, and the results were interesting.  Tripod was developed by Ron Ferguson of Harvard University, and has been well-researched as it was developed and operationalized.  Here is a link to the survey tool:

The MET studies found that there was a correlation between student views of teachers and teacher/classroom performance.  The tripod used in the survey consists of content knowledge, pedagogic skill, relationship-building skills and these are measured by asking students questions about what Ferguson calls the Seven Cs:  caring, controlling behavior, clarifying lessons, challenging students, captivating students, conferring with students, consolidating knowledge.

Looking across almost 3000 classrooms with a minimum of 5 students responding in each, and grouping those classrooms by percentiles in terms of overall performance on the MET measures, here is a look at how students perceived their teachers in classrooms that scored in the 25th percentile and in the 75th percentile:

Students in classrooms that performed in the 25th percentile rated their teachers as less caring, engaging, challenging, communicative, and skilled in teaching.  These results, and others like them, seem to validate the usefulness of the survey.

I read Deborah Tonguis’ description of how she is being evaluated this year, and had to wonder, how will her abilities to engage, challenge, care, nurture and respect, and motivate her students be captured?  Would a survey tool like this help to do this?

What do you think about the use of student surveys, at least ones that have research to back them up?  Is this a tool that you want to see used in evaluating your performance?

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